Having a trusted gadget run out of battery life on a backpacking trip can really put a damper on things. We often rely on our electronic devices for maps, tracking systems, safety information- you name it! So it’s critical to keep them charged up, since they’re our lifeline if something goes wrong.
Sure, battery packs and power banks are an essential piece of the puzzle. On longer off-grid hiking trips, though, they only go so far. That’s where portable solar panel chargers come in. They’re lightweight, durable and provide supplemental energy in the most remote locations as long as the sun’s shining.
To me, it’s a simple equation: if epic adventures are cornerstones of your lifestyle, you need a quality solar charging setup in your outdoor gear closet. In this piece, I’ll review the best solar chargers for backpacking to keep you powered up. .
My Review Process
For over a decade, my favorite way to experience a wild place has been to hike my way through it. From traversing the length of a state to long weekend jaunts in national forests, backpacking adventures never fail to fire me up.
Though I stray away from larger devices and aim to keep my gear to a minimum, the reality is that phones and other gadgets are necessary creature comforts. When you’re several days away from a reliable power source or outlet, however, a portable battery bank often won’t cut it for multiple recharges. What we can do, is harness a natural solution to keep our gadgets charged up—sunlight and solar energy!
I’ve tested my share of sun-powered charging systems over the years to try and find the best of the best. What do I look for? The ideal solar charger for backpacking is lightweight, easy to pack, and has enough output to generate electricity in a short amount of time. I’ll review other important factors in the Buying Guide below.
If the most efficient solar charger for the best price is what you’re after, look no further than the BigBlue 28W. Five solar panels offer 28 watts of power to ensure maximum solar absorption and one of the fastest-charging kits on the market.
The digital ammeter is a neat feature as well; it’s nice to keep tabs on how well the panels are working when the sun becomes spotty. (On that note, I was quite impressed with how well the BigBlue worked even with some cloud cover!) It also outperforms other models when a device is plugged in directly.
Now, is it the most compact and ultralight of solar chargers? Not exactly, but it’s lightweight enough. And if you’re heading out for a multi-day or long-distance backpacking trip, the extra ounces will be worth the extra power and top-notch performance. If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, the BigBlue 28 is unmatched.
With the lowest price point of all sun-powered products on our list, the Hiluckey Solar Charger easily takes the crown for the best value.
It’s a compact solar charger/power bank combo that offers a whopping 25,000 mAh battery capacity. Fully charged, it can provide up to seven phone recharges. That’s plenty to sustain the average hiker for several days in the outdoors. Being able to charge up to three devices at once and the built-in flashlight are also nice perks.
The real icing on the cake, though? The four attached 5W solar panels. Although they’re fairly low wattage and slow to recharge the full battery (mainly because it’s so big!), they’ll still provide enough juice for emergency situations.
Simply put: the Hiluckey solar power bank is a reliable power supply for any backpacking activity that doesn't need constant battery refills. And best of all, it’s available at a great price.
Weighing in at 17 ounces, the Ryno Tuff 21W clocks in as the best lightweight solar charger we’ve found. If that’s not alluring enough, get this: it’s also one of the fastest-charging and most reasonably priced!
With 21 watts spread across three panels, its charging speed rivals that of many larger panels, while still packing down to a pretty compact size. Two USB ports provide direct power output as well, and the ability to charge two gadgets as once. Talk about efficiency!
Despite its fast charging, be forewarned: without strong, direct sunlight, it may take longer than you expect to load up a dead battery. Linking it with a backup power source, like a detachable battery pack, is an easy remedy though.
If lightweight backpacking is your credence but quality still holds the reins, the Ryno Tuff will leave its mark on your adventures.
Thru-hikes in sweaty summer heat? Glacial objectives with below zero temps? The Goal Zero Nomad 10 has my back in whatever extremes and outdoor activities I lug it through. It was a clear-cut winner when weighing up the most durable backpacking solar chargers on the market.
Whether you’re strapping the panels to your backpack on long approaches or to your tent on thru-hike down days, it’s made to travel and adapt. I also love that the 180-degree kickstand allows you to adjust angles for optimal solar connection. A USB port allows you to plug a device directly into the 10W panel, too; you can expect to charge up a phone within roughly 2-4 hours in lots of sunlight.
As with other panels-only options, I suggest coupling the Nomad 10 with a power bank to take full advantage of its potential and power output. But either way, it’s super lightweight, super rugged, and an option I’d trust for your wildest backpacking and backcountry adventures.
You can’t have a conversation about power banks for backpacking without mentioning the hiker-approved heavyweight, Anker. The company’s portable battery packs are some of the most durable, lightweight, and high-performing products out there. It’s no surprise that their solar power bank, the 18W PowerCore 20000, also knocks it out of the park.
Firstly, the Anker Powercore is a beast for power juice, with a 20,000 mAh battery capacity. That’s enough to charge a smartphone battery four or five times! It’s also made with durable materials that handle whatever weather or conditions you encounter on the trail. The three-mode flashlight is a nice touch, too.
Keep in mind that the solar cells of one small panel can only garner so much sunlight. Hence, it'll take a while (days, even!) for a total power refill. If you’re sticking to shorter backpacking trips and don’t need a full solar reload, though, I wouldn’t think twice about having the Anker PowerCore 20000 as your power sidekick.
In the world of solar chargers, you typically have to choose between a great panel or a great battery bank. The BioLite 10+ excels because it strikes a perfect compromise between both. It’s our top choice for those looking for an all-in-one solar charger kit for backpacking.
The combination of two 10-watt solar panels and a 3200 mAh built-in battery lets you use the sun’s energy immediately or store it for later. I’m a big fan of the charge strength indicator, too, so you can gauge efficiency in real-time. I also love the fully adjustable kickstand that allows you to position the panels at different angles and on different terrain. An analog sundial only further helps maximize absorption.
The comprehensive package comes at a cost though; it’s the most expensive product on our list. And you’ll probably still need a backup battery if you need multiple gadgets or larger devices recharged. Even so, it’s a solid choice for those looking for a no-frills solar kit that has everything built into a rugged, lightweight package.
Solar Charger Buying Guide
Styles & Power Storage
Solar chargers for backpacking typically come in four different styles:
- Solar panels only
- Solar panels with internal battery storage
- Solar panels with an external battery pack, usually in the form of a separate (often detachable) power bank
- Power banks with a small, integrated solar panel (more for power than solar)
If you already have a reliable portable power bank you use for hiking, look for a panels-only model to complement your kit. If you’re looking for an all-in-one power option, I suggest a solar panel with an integrated battery.
Solar Panel Power Output
Solar panel output is measured in watts of power. The greater the watts, the greater amount of sunlight energy that can be absorbed and converted into electricity.
Depending on the size of the solar panel, outdoor-specific models usually produce anywhere from 5 to 30 watts. The trick is to find the sweet spot with a solar panel that’s lightweight and packable, but large enough to generate decent wattage.
Battery Capacity (mAh)
Battery pack capacity is measured in mAh units, or a milliamp hour (one thousand of an amp hour.) Only solar panels with an integrated battery (be it internal or external) will have an mAh rating. It describes the electric charge that the battery is capable of holding.
All-in-one solar panel kits with batteries have a range of mAh unit ratings, usually between 2,000 and 5,000 mAh. Solar power banks for backpacking (more battery and less panel) will often have ratings between 10,000 and 25,000 mAh.
Number of USB ports
When choosing the best solar charger for backpacking, you’ll want to pay attention to the number of USB ports available on the prospective model.
If you’re traveling solo, packing minimal electronics, and sticking to shorter trips, you may fare well with just one USB port. But why settle for one when you can get two (or more!) for a similar price? A minimum of two USB ports will allow you to charge multiple devices simultaneously, which saves lots of time on the trail.
A solar charger that charges your battery packs and devices efficiently is key when backpacking. Although charging speed is mainly dependent on direct sunlight available (plus factors like elevation and angle) by choosing a solar charger with a high wattage output you’ll get the best performance. I suggest a solar charger with an output of at least 10 watts.
Size & Weight
Bulky power banks and heavy solar panel chargers don’t lend themselves well to backpacking. Even though larger (and heavier) solar panels will give more energy output, every ounce matters when you’ll hauling a backpack for multiple days on end. I recommend a compact, lightweight solar charger that clocks in around a pound or so.
Just like the rest of your backpacking gear, you want your solar charger to be durable. Look for something that has water-resistant and shock-proof qualities. You don’t want a little moisture or a bump or fall to damage your solar charger and put it out of commission during your outdoor activities.
If you want a solar charger that balances durability, a backpacking-friendly size/weight, and reliable power, our Best Overall pick, the BigBlue 28 W, is a solar energy powerhouse at a great price.
Looking for the best of both worlds —decent solar and a solid integrated battery bank— on your hiking trips? The Hiluckey Solar Charger is not only our Best Value, but offers an impressively fast charge.
For those that crave long-distance backpacking and the challenge of truly remote adventures, Goal Zero’s Nomad 10 is the rugged sidekick I’d choose.
The length of time it takes to charge a smartphone battery with a solar charger depends on two main factors: the solar panel size and output (in watts) and the amount of sun present. Generally speaking, though, with strong, direct sunlight, a quality solar charger should charge a phone in approximately two to five hours.
A solar charger works by absorbing the sun’s energy through solar panels and converting it into electricity. The energy can either power a device directly, or be transferred and stored in a battery. Power output is usually maximized with the latter, since many factors need to align for direct solar panel charging.
Yes, solar chargers are definitely worth it for backpacking! Especially for longer or more remote trips, they allow you to recharge gadgets and battery packs so you can continue hiking safely. If you plan on hiking in very forested areas or locations with minimal sun, a solar charger may not perform as well as hoped.
For backpacking, a solar panel charger isn’t better or worse than a power bank, but equally important to one. The sweet spot is when you use solar panels in conjunction with battery packs. This is especially true for those who rely on more rechargeable gadgets (like watches, headlamps, GPS devices, etc) or when someone is on a longer off-grid trip.
When you’re on a thru-hike, there are typically two ways of recharging your phone. On trail, most hikers utilize a portable, external battery pack or solar charger, or, a combination of the two. You can also recharge your smartphone and other electronic devices off-trail, when stopping in a nearby town for a food resupply.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.